Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival



The seventh annual Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival will be celebrated on Saturday, December 8, 2012 on Monroe Street in historic downtown Fairmont.  The Italian-heritage festival is free and open to the public from 11:00 am until 7:30pm. You’ll find authentic foods showcasing local chefs and restaurants.  The festival will also feature many local vendors selling gift baskets, Christmas ornaments, handmade jewelry and candles, live pine trees, fresh pine, holly wreaths and garland plus other unique food and gift items. New this year are tours of the Agape Church (Gatherings) with ensemble performances.

Italian holiday favorites will be featured, and there will be contests for homemade cookies and wine.  The cooking school will demonstrate how to prepare the “Seven Fishes Feast” with all NEW recipes this year.  Live music and entertainment will continue all day, center stage in the old Fairmont firehouse.  There will be plenty of tables and chairs located in the firehouse and in various locations under shelter to keep warm.

Then wrap up the day with the Christmas Parade and a Catholic Mass.

The Marion County Transit Authority will offer FREE shuttle service between the Prickett’s Fort Christmas Market and downtown Fairmont, giving you the chance to enjoy both of these holiday events.

Shuttle Schedule

Leave downtown Fairmont for Prickett’s Fort Christmas Market
11:30 am, 1:00 pm and 2:30 pm

Leave Prickett’s Fort Christmas Market for downtown Fairmont
12:00 pm, 1:30 pm and 3:00 pm

You won’t want to miss this opportunity to experience an Italian Christmas tradition set in historic downtown Fairmont.

Entertainment Schedule
11:00 am – 5:30pm Bocce Ball Courts will be set up in the parking lot next to the Union Mission.  Watch the pros and learn or join in a pick-up game
11:00am – 12:00 pm National Anthem, Opening Remarks and Dedication in the firehouse
12:00 pm – 12:30 pm Florence Chico Cann Children’s Choir
11:30am -1:00 pm Festival Cucina Cooking School/Demo The cooking demonstration is $20 per person and is takes place in CJ Maggie’s Restaurant, Jefferson Street, which will open just for this event.
12:30 pm – 1:00 pm Ott Meale and Sam Manno
1:00 pm – 1:30pm Brittany Marie
1:30 pm – 3:00 pm Five Guys Named Moe
3:45 pm Cookie Contest and Wine Making Contest winners announced
3:00 pm – 4:00 pm Mirella the Musician
4:00 pm – 5:45 pm The Cavaliers
5:30 pm Christmas Parade
6:30 pm Catholic Mass in the Agape Church at 216 Monroe Street


    Fairmont celebrates The Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival every December thanks to the efforts of Bob Tinnell, who along with his wife, Shannon, wrote the graphic-novel, Feast of the Seven Fishes: The Collected Comic Strip and Italian Holiday Cookbook.

    So are you still curious about what the Feast is all about? This excerpt from Appalachian History, by Dave Tabler, will tell you more:

    This southern Italian feast is traditionally celebrated on Christmas Eve. It stems from the observance of the Cena della Vigilia, the wait for the miraculous birth of Christ in which early Christians fasted on Christmas Eve until after receiving communion at Midnight Mass. At one time, Rome was the farthest point north where ‘La Vigilia’ was celebrated, but today Italians throughout the world celebrate it.

    “When I was kid, eating fish on Christmas Eve was just something you did,” says (Bob)Tinnell. “We never called it by name. I never even bothered to question why we did it, especially as I had not been raised Catholic. All I knew was that December 24th meant a delicious meal of exotic foods, cooked up by my ancient great-grandmother, Isabella Oliverio, on her wood-fired stove in the basement of her modest home in Rivesville, WV.”

    At least 11 percent of the population of Harrison, Marion, and Monongalia counties has Italian ancestry. The larger communities are in the vicinity of Clarksburg, Fairmont, and Morgantown respectively. Many Italians originally immigrated to West Virginia in the early twentieth century to work in the coal mines throughout the state.

    Specialty glass factories in this region were largely an Italian immigrant industry with factories in Fairmont, Mannington, and Clarksburg. Italian stonemasons were also common in the early communities. So ‘La Vigilia’ clearly has an established place among West Virginia Christmas traditions.

    Why seven types of fish for this Christmas feast? Some believe that seven fishes are served because it took God seven days to create the world, while others mention the Seven Hills of Rome. There is also the possibility that the seven fishes symbolize the seven sacraments in the Catholic Church, along with the seven sins, or the seven days it took Mary and Joseph to reach Bethlehem, or the seven of the twelve Apostles who were fishermen. Some say it is because it took God seven days to create the universe.

    Some regions of Italy require three courses (the Trinity or three Wise Men), nine courses (the Trinity times three), twelve courses (the Apostles), thirteen courses (the Apostles, plus Jesus), or even 25 courses (for the days in the Christmas season).

    The origins vary, depending on who you ask, but quite clearly, you did not eat meat on Christmas Eve since it was the birth of Jesus, and just as you would not eat meat on Good Friday, you would not eat meat on Christmas Eve. As midnight brings Christmas day, that is when you would start cooking the sausage for Christmas Dinner, and often the eating would go on until the late/early morning hours.

    The people from Naples are famous for their elaborate spreads of cold shellfish cocktails and hot fish dishes, as well as the roasted peppers and antipasti. In most of the southern coastal regions in Italy and Sicily, seafood was abundant and so offered the perfect opportunity to work fish into the menu for this festive day.

    Two fish most traditionally found on Christmas Eve menus across Italy are baccalà (salted cod) and anguilla (eel). Other popular fishes that are eaten on this special holiday are prepared versions of calamari, kale patties, oysters, scallops, whiting, clams, and shrimp. At the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the meal usually begins with antipasto, the Italian equivalent of hors d’oeuvres. This can include a variety of cold foods such as cheeses and raw or marinated vegetables.

    The meal ends with any number of delectable desserts. One that is almost always present is panettone, the famous sweet cake-like Christmas bread that is eaten during the Christmas holidays.

    And if you’re looking for more holiday cheer, also plan to visit the Marion County Museum’s Open House and the Tea With a Twist Event at the Woman’s Club.

    We can’t wait for this annual Marion County festival; it’s one of our favorite events of the year. Will we see you there?


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